Like No Other Muse
Elisha Gabriel | Terri Kelleher
I walked there. Two miles of climbing to the top of the moors. Autumn had arrived with fury from the north. I liked to walk on windy days, they freshened my mind and invigorated my thoughts.
Wrapped in my blue woolen coat and crimson mohair shawl, walking boots on, thick hand-knitted socks over my knees, I strode up the cobbles and away from the village and its tight claustrophobic streets. The town in the bottom of the valley lay derelict in rubble. It was good to get away from it all for a couple of days.
The sun sat lazily on a hill, sighing with effort, yearning to head back to its bed, but not just yet. A few hours were left before Sister Sun slid away and Brother Moon took over on his night shift. I was sometimes grateful for foggy days and cloudy nights that hid the grimness of war around me.
I had my weekend bag, a new notebook, pens and pencils which I had ordered from the city. Shortbread made the previous night rattled in a tin and I looked forward to a hot drink to have with them. I kept on walking through the fields and over stiles.
Then the descent down a slippery, dark, mossy cobbled road. I felt safe in my boots. The others had arrived the night before by horse and cart from the town. Ten more people were going to be there, and our tutor for the weekend.
Peaty smoke billowed from a chimney. I was heartened by the thought of a warm fire, good company and two whole days committed to writing. I skipped the last few yards, pulled on the iron door bell then entered. I wasn’t a stranger to this grand place, but it had been a long time since my last visit. I called in at the kitchen and had hugs with old friends who were busy preparing our meals. After a brief conversation and a promise of some very precious coffee, I entered the dining room.
It was quiet. It was early. The tutor sat at the grand oak table. I said my hello and sidled down to the fire. There were plenty of logs and peat blocks to keep us going for the day. The coffee arrived and then more people — scraping back the chairs on the stone flags as they sat down and placed their notebooks and pens on the waxed mellow surface.
We started with our first writing task straightaway whilst mulling over the menu for lunch and dinner for the weekend. We chattered for a couple of minutes about the food, poured drinks and appreciated the biscuits. Our tutor waited patiently, she didn’t take anything. She seemed disengaged, subdued.
The morning rolled on. We wrote, discussed, read passages from books around us. I kept the fire and coffee going. Soon it was lunch and our tutor left us to eat together, saying she needed to take a walk.
It was a good hearty winter vegetable soup with a hint of cinnamon, warm wholemeal bread with salty butter. Fresh fruit was left for us to devour until dinner later in the evening. We talked and made appreciative sounds of the food.
We were all there for a reason, of course. To write again. To forget hard times, people lost, illness, war, pain. To unravel memories and find ways forward in our lives. We all considered ourselves without envy or regret, but with a desire to maintain the fire in our bellies and souls. We weren’t gone yet. We were keeping on, for the sake of our own sanity and our lost ones.
There was good camaraderie around the table and when the tutor returned we ensured she felt welcome to be with us. She was still quiet.
The hours whizzed by. The fire faltered as the wind died down. Dusk unveiled a sky without cloud. I pulled candles out of the old drawers and lit a good dozen or so, adding extra warmth to the room. The atmosphere was of another world, a past time.
The dinner arrived. What a feast to see laid out on the table. Life was surely no better than this. We soaked up the platters of food with our eyes as our stomachs gurgled. Everything had been grown in local gardens, fed by horse dung and a watery sun over the summer months. We still had summers despite it all.
I was left alone as the clock on the wall struck eleven times. I wondered if she would come. She usually did around this time, at any place I might be, on any night.
The faint delicate scent of lavender came. The logs on the fire cracked and gave a loud roar as a breeze entered the room. In the far, darkened corner a figure seemed to appear, growing stronger and more visible, almost real. Almost, but not quite. She stepped forward and took a seat at the table. She smiled.
It could have been disconcerting, all the visits accompanied by silence. At first it was because I was so unsure of why she appeared if not to talk to me. The others did — they liked to share their stories. Instead she seemed to want to listen to my stories, my words. She sometimes nodded with approval, or shrugged. Occasionally she frowned, particularly at bad grammar, which I found funny and if I laughed at her reaction she would laugh back — silently of course.
I knew who she was because I recognised her from paintings. She smiled when I mentioned her name. I was never afraid to say it. The shelf behind me had all the local authors on it. I pulled out a copy of one of her books and started to read to her: There was no possibility of taking a walk that day, I began. She sat back on her chair and listened intently.